Andy Warhol, Robert Greene, Marcel Duchamp, and JJ Abrams walk into a darkened bar somewhere in eastern Europe.
Andy clings to a Campbell’s soup can. Robert Greene flips through an orange book. A urinal sits in Marcel’s lap. And JJ Abrams — beaming — hugs a light brown box.
The bartender approaches Robert Greene and says, “So, what are you reading?”
Andy slams his little fist on the table and says, “You mean to tell me that in a room with a man wearing a shock of white hair and holding a can of tomato soup, all you notice is a book? A stupid little orange book?”
The bartender eyes Andy for a moment, shrugs, and turns back to Robert, “What are you reading?”
“For God’s sake, man, I’m holding a urinal. Who cares what he’s reading,” Marcel says.
The bartender looks down on Marcel, raises an eyebrow, then turns his attention back to Robert.
“Look!” JJ Abram says, “It’s a big box with a question mark on it! Aren’t you dying to know what’s inside my box? The one that rattles when I shake it? My mystery box? The one I bought thirty years ago and never opened? Don’t you want to know what’s inside? I do!”
“I’m not into boxes,” the bartender says, “So, what are you reading?”
Robert Greene looks up, smiles, and says, “Oh, were you talking to me? This book? Oh, well, it’s about … ”
At that moment, an airplane crashes into the bar, killing everyone inside.
What’s in your book?
Does the scene above remind you of anything?
Maybe a scene from one of JJ Abram’s films, perhaps? It’s a make-believe story, no doubt. Told to demonstrate a simple truth: all the men above believed in the power of mystery.
Andy Warhol once said,
I learned that you actually have more power when you shut up.
Marcel Duchamp believed the less you say, the more profound and mysterious you appear. He refused to explain his works of art — like a urinal he titled “Fountain” — and his fame grew.
JJ Abram said,
Mystery is more important than knowledge.
And Robert Greene, reading out of the orange book, said,
Humans are machines of interpretation and explanation; they have to know what you are thinking. When you carefully control what you reveal, they cannot pierce your intentions or your meaning.
But what do these folks have to do with social media? Scarcity? And why should you care?
Let me explain …
How to be mysterious
Social media is a tool that gives you the ability to say whatever you want, when you want. It gives you the ability to be authentic — one of the key factors behind getting people to know, like, and trust you.
But that freedom — if not checked — has its costs:
- The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.
- By babbling on you may appear silly, less intelligent. An air bag. (By contrast, powerful people impress by saying less. Think Seth Godin.)
- Risk of over-familiarity. This is why strangers have an aura of power, while we take our spouses for granted.
See, in an era of bloggers, social media, and smartphones, it takes a little effort to control that endless spilling of personal details that render a person stale. But this is not an invitation to lie or deceive. This is actually an invitation to elevate your scarcity. How?
- Hold something back. This is not unlike the tease. Or the internal cliffhanger.
- Pull a disappearing act, like the unannounced social media sabbatical.
- Each question you answer should lead to another question.
- Hold some parts of your life close to the vest. Vow never to talk about that area.
- Allude to things, but don’t fully explain.
- Use misdirection. Suggest one thing while you are working on another.
- And delete all your tweets. Like someone on our staff regularly does.
Naturally, there are risks to this approach. It raises the stakes and you must deliver on any promise you make. Any suspense you create. You must deliver.
And you mustn’t be so mysterious that you are a turn off. With the information you provide your audience should still be able to guess and distill your essence — like knowing what’s in the orange book without knowing exactly what’s in the orange book.
If that makes sense?
And, if it doesn’t, don’t you want to know more?